Last Address: Nikolai Yushkevich

last address-nikolai yushkevichHere lived Nikolai Ignatyevich Yushkevich, clerk. Born 1900. Arrested 23 October 1937. Shot 10 November 1937. Exonerated 1957.

Last Address Foundation
45 Tavricheskaya Street, St. Petersburg
April 8, 2018

The Shulgin Tenement House, named after its proprietor, is situated at the corner of Tavricheskaya Street and Tavrichesky Alley. The house was built in 1914, designed by architects Vladimir Upatchev and Mikhail von Wilken in the neoclassicist Art Nouveau style, then popular in Petersburg.

We know that, during the Great Terror, twelve residents of the house were shot on trumped-up charges. Among them was Nikolai Ignatyevich Yushkevich, who lived in the house with his wife and two sons.

Yushkevich was born in 1900 in Vilna Province. He had a primary education. He joined the Party in 1924.

As his wife Maria recalled, “My husband finished four grades of school in 1914 and, since he cane from a family of poor peasants, he had to quit school and work on the farm. In 1917, he left for the city to earn money.”

24_20180406171639YushkFrom May 1917 till his arrest, Yushevich worked at the Main Waterworks Station (Vodokanal) in Petrograd-Leningrad, where he served as an unskilled laborer, a woodcutter, and then a coalman, machinist, and electrician. His last post was head of the supply department. Acccording to a record in the Vodokanal Archives, Yushkevich was “dismissed due to his arrest.”

The arrest took place on October 23, 1937. On November 3, the Vodokanal employee was sentenced to death.

According to the indictment, Yushkevich “was a member of a counterrevolutionary espionage and sabotage organization, into which he had been recruited by Polish intelligence agent V.S. Tomashevich, who had tasked him with collecting intelligence and planning acts of sabotage.”

The NKVD investigators likewise noted that “the espionage information had to do with the structure and location of the city’s water main, and supplies and storage sites of poisonous substances.”

That was not enough for the NKVD officers, however, so they dreamed up the notion that Yushkevich had, supposedly, “accepted the assignment of carrying out acts of sabotage by poisoning the water supplied to the populace during wartime.”

The death sentence was carried out on November 10, 1937. Yushkevich was thirty-seven. He was survived by his wife, Maria, and two sons, six-year-old Boris and two-year-old Vladimir.

In 1942, the Yushkevich family was administratively exiled from Leningrad.

“The authorities insisted on evacuating us, but I refused,” Maria later recalled. “Mother was seriously ill and could not be moved. But the NKVD investigator forced me, since my husband had been arrested. On March 31, 1942, the children and I were forced to leave Leningrad. Mom died two days later. Our group of Leningraders arrived in the Vyselki District of Krasnodar Territory. The family was sent to the Dzerzhinsky Collective Farm. […] In 1945, I returned to my hometown on a summons issued by the Leningrad City Council of Workers’ Deputies, but I was refused a residence permit, since my husband was under arrest. […] I did not want the children to face incidents of mistrust in their lives and work due to their father’s arrest. Since I did not believe my husband was guilty, I kept everything from the children. However, there were incidents. My eldest son was expelled from vocational college […] and refused admission to university.”

The room where the family had lived before their exile from Leningrad in 1942 had been occupied by a secret police officer.

Maria Yushkevich regularly wrote letters and complaints to various authorities in her attempt to find out what had happened to her arrested husband.

“In 1938, [I wrote] to Vyshinsky, in 1939, to Beria, in 1940, to the Central Administration of Prison Camps (Gulag) in Moscow, and later, to Khrushchev.”

The family archives contains a document from the Leningrad City Prosecutor’s Office about a review of the case in 1940. The family received the notification only in 1957, when the decision to fully exonerate Yushkevich had been made.

The decision in the 1940 review contains the following passage: “The verdict against N.I. Yushkevich should be considered correct. […] His activities as a spy and saboteur were wholly corroborated by his personal confession.”

The Shulgin Tenement House at 45 Tavricheskaya Street in St. Petersburg. Photo by Natalya Shkuryonok

Before Yushkevich was exonerated in 1957, the authorities replied to his family’s inquiries in various ways. Maria later recalled one such reply.

“‘The case is not subject to review, since N.I. Yushkevich is an enemy of the people, convicted by a special collegium under Article 58 and sentenced to ten years [in a prison camp] without the right to correspondence.’ [They wrote] that my husband would never come back and insisted I remarry. In 1940, I received a reply claiming my husband was alive and well, and that he was in the northern camps without the right to correspondence. […] In 1955, after I sent an inquiry about my husband’s plight to the head of the Gulag at the Interior Ministry, I was informed my husband had gone missing in action during the war.”

As the Military Tribunal of the Belorussian Military District determined when reviewing the case in 1956–1957, “The charge was not based on objectively corroborated testimony. The baselessness of the charge against Yushkevich was established during an supplementary review of the case. Yushkevich was not involved in the case of Tomashevich, who had allegedly recruited the former. There is no compromising information about Yushkevich in the relevant archival agencies. Former NKVD officers Altwarg and Perelmutter, involved in investigating the case, were convicted of falsifying cases under investigation.”

Thanks to Dmitri Evmenov and Jenya Kulakova for the heads-up. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

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Varya Mikhaylova: Legal Nihilism

varya-morningDawn outside the October District Court, on Pochtamskaya Street in Petersburg’s Admiralty District. The Central Post Office is visible in the background. Photo by Varya Mikhaylova

Varya Mikhaylova
Facebook
May 7, 2018

I greeted the morning of the day Vladimir Putin started his new term as president in a way that was more than symbolic. At five in the morning, as the first rays of the sun were peaking over the horizon, I left the October District Court, where for the past thirteen hours I had defended people detained during the He’s No Tsar to Us protest rally in Petersburg.

I was afraid to go to court, because what happened in March could easily have happened again. The police had then tried to detain the activists who had come to support their friends right in the courtroom. But by Sunday afternoon this excuse seemed utter rubbish, and I rushed to the October District Court.

Friends of the detainees stood outside the courthouse with bags of food and things. They were not allowed into the courthouse, and the bailiffs refused to take their care packages and give them to the detainees. It was a miracle that me and another human rights activist, Maria Malysheva, were let into the courthouse. By current standards, that was a cause for joy.

There were five detainees in the courthouse. Some of them had been consciously involved in the protest rally and made no bones about it, while the others had come along for the ride, had come to gawk or had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One of my future defendants was an amazing mathematics teacher who, at that point, had not eaten or drunk water for twenty-six hours. After we arrived, we tearfully persuaded the bailiffs to at least send in the food and water brought by the people waiting outside.

A policeman in the courthouse refused to give one young woman her telephone. He sat next to her holding the phone in a cellophane packet and was very proud of his perserverance. After I called the police HQ hotline, however, he handed over the phone to the detainee while looking down at the floor.

After four hours of waiting, we went into the first hearing at 7:15 p.m., while the final hearing commenced at four in the morning. We made around fourteen motions total during the hearings, and all of them were rejected except motions to admit a social defender to the hearings and view a video. Our motions to summon a prosecutor, witnesses, and public officials, request access to a video, enter evidence into the record, and transfer a hearing to another jurisdiction were all turned down. The last motion led to a particularly funny exchange with the judge.

“Defender, why do you think the case should be transferred to another jurisdiction?”

“Your honor, the alleged violation came to light in the area covered by the 78th Police Precinct, and the case should be heard by the Kuibyshev District Court.”

“Why do you say that? It came to light in the 1st Police Precinct.”

(In other cases, it would be the 77th Police Precinct, the 34th Police Precinct, and so on.)

“So, it turns out my defendant was detained and delivered to police custody, but only subsequently, at the police station, did the violation come to light?”

“It turns out that was what happened.”

Neither the judge nor her female clerk concealed their contempt for the protest rally in the slightest.

“You, an educated person, a professor, what induced you to go there?”

“If I had been in your shoes, I would have left as soon as I saw what was happening.”

“Schoolchildren with time on their hands.”

“You should have thought about the possibility of jail time, your job, and your pupils when you were going to the protest, not now, when you ask me not to pass this sentence.”

And so on, and so forth.

The video that was introduced into evidence in every case deserves special attention. It was very long (over an hour), but it contained no footage either of the rally’s beginning, in the Alexander Garden, or its finale, when the police detained protesters. Two of my defendants, who insisted they had not taken part in the march, were not in the video. Another of my defendants was in the video, and the video corroborated exactly what he said during the hearing: that he was involved in the march, but he had not chanted any slogans and was not carrying a placard. So, the video was on our side in absolutely every case, but this did not ruffle the court at all, because the principal mantra that all judges repeat in such cases is, “There are no grounds for not trusting the testimony of the police officers.”

The police are a separate conversation. They have learned to do a better job of compiling the case files than in 2012, but they still make a royal mess of it. Therefore, in the case files of the people I defended, there was no mention of a single witness to the alleged administrative violations or a single official attesting search witness [i.e., a “poniatoi,” as required under Russian law], although all of them had their personal effects confiscated. But the most enchanting episode had to with my defendant Yulya, whose case was heard last, from 3:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. I will write a separate post about it now.

The outcomes of the court hearings in which I served as a social defender were as follows. My defendant who was in the march, but did not chant any slogans, was sentenced to a fine of 15,000 rubles [approx. 200 euros] and three days in jail. The two random bystanders were each sentenced to a fine of 10,000 rubles and three days in jail. In the courtroom next door, a female protester who was heavily involved in the rally was sentenced to four days in jail and fine of 10,000 rubles, while another innocent bystander was slapped with two days in jail and a fine of 10,000 rubles.

We plan to appeal all the verdicts, of course.

I gather that the point of these court hearings against people who are involved in protest rallies is not to intimidate everyone, but to inculcate total legal nihilism in each and every one of us. People who deliberately go to a rally, waving flags and bearing placards, are sentenced to four days in jail and 10,000-ruble fines, while random passersby receive the same sentences or worse. Human right defenders who attempt to give detainees blank court appeal forms are slapped with fines of 170,000 rubles [approx. 2,250 euros] and fifteen days in jail.

***

Recently, I was asked how activists could establish links with human right defenders who would stand for them at hearings. My reply was that life in 2018 is such that activists and human rights defenders are quite often one and the same people.

These were the first hearings in which I defended detainees on my own, so feel free to congratulate me.

Translated by the Russian Reader